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By Shannon Penrod

UPDATE:  I will be adding more resources as they flood in.  Check back regularly at the bottom of the list to see more fun things to do and get more great, free resources.

The reality has sunk in…you’re going to be home for awhile with your kids.  It’s a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be, even if you have special needs kids.  You just Jem sevenneed to make a plan and keep them busy and having fun.  I have compiled a list of 101 fun things to do.  They won’t all be right for you and your kids, so just do the things that peak your interest.  Pick on or two a day.  Have fun.  I’ve made a real effort to find things that are free and only use materials you probably already have in your home.  Please feel free to add to the list!

  1. Read with/to your kids. Reading is fundamental!  There is no age limit.  Make it fun and interactive.
  2. Act out what you read. Don’t be afraid to be silly.  Create voices.  Feel free to move and get your children moving.
  3. Draw pictures about what you read. Read a chapter and then draw pictures about the chapter you read.  Show your kids what you drew and why, ask them to show you what they drew.
  4. Sing! Karaoke or acapella!  Singing stimulates the vagus nerve, which lowers stress.  Sing with your kids!  Some cable companies have a Karaoke channel, Disney Plus has great sing- alongs, but if you are saving money you can find lots of free karaoke videos on YouTube.
  5. Learn a new song from YouTube – Don’t know too many songs? That’s okay.  Learn something new.  Find a song your kids like and learn it with them.  Learn all the words.  Put some dance moves with it.  Don’t be afraid to take out your camera.
  6. Start a band – use pots, pans and other household items to make instruments. Improvise or play along to an existing song.
  7. Build a blanket fort. Use tables, chairs and blankets to create a special hang out!  Add pillows and favorite things to make it cozy and comfortable.  This might be the perfect place to read with your kids, with a flashlight, of course.  Don’t worry about making a mess!  No one is coming over, anyway!
  8. Build a pasta tower. This is a great STEM exercise.  Put a variety of pasta (spaghetti, lasagna and penne are the best) and marshmallows on the table and have a contest to see who can build the highest tower.
  9. Find a craft on Pinterest and do it. Don’t worry about having it be perfect. Half the fun of doing a Pinterest craft is seeing how different it comes out.  Search Pinterest fails and have a laugh!
  10. Find a science experiment on Pinterest and do it. Pinterest is filled with science experiments you can do with your kids, using common household products. Here is one of my favorites: https://www.pinterest.com/sheilakddjk1375/science-activities-for-toddlers/?autologin=true
  11. Make a music video to your favorite song. The sky is the limit.  Have your child pick the song and the story line of the video.  Have a blast trying to capture their vision.
  12. Make a short movie. It could be about anything.  It could reenact their favorite scene from their favorite movie or be something they made up.
  13. Learn a magic trick on line. Here are five magic tricks you can teach even a small child. Let them perform their own show, just like the kids in the video!  5 Magic Tricks for Toddlers
  14. Learn a dance on YouTube. Personally I am a fan of the Phil Wright.  He is a choreographer who does dance classes with families that are super fun.  Watch his videos and learn the moves with your kids.  There are several, but here is my favorite: Phil Wright: Let’s Groove
  15. Make an obstacle course in your house and have each family member run the course!
  16. Make a how to video. Is your child good at something.  Have them do a short “explainer” video to teach the rest of us.
  17. Bake something, anything. Have your kids help, make it fun.
  18. Play treasure hunt – hide a treasure and give your kids clues where to find it!
  19. Teach everyone how to do laundry – make it fun! My friend Karen says:  “We play Dry Cleaners. We clock in, register the laundry on our computer, process everything, and complain about the manager. It’s all imaginary, so it’s not like we literally use a computer program or anything, but both of my girls love this.”
  20. Take a class with your kids on KhanAcademy This is a free platform that has classes appropriate for preK – college.  Register for a parent account and a student account.  Take a class along side your kiddo, track their progress.  Did we mention it’s FREE!
  21. Watch an Opera and sing like the actors. The Metropolitan Opera will be live streaming amazing operas for free!  Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.  Here is the calendar: Metropolitan Opera Calendar
  22. Play a board game! In fact play all the board games you have, just not all at once!
  23. Go for a walk, observe social distancing. There’s nothing quite like a walk around the block!
  24. Play beauty parlor. Let’s all do each other’s hair and nails.  Don’t be sexist and leave the boys and men out.  This is great fun for everyone.
  25. Play School and let your kids be the teacher. Be a good student and learn whatever your child decides to teach.
  26. Make your living room a bowling alley with water bottles as the pins. Bowling balls could be oranges, grapefruit, baseballs…the list is endless.
  27. Turn anything into a competition – who can make their bed the fastest, who can pick up the most toys in 20 seconds? Give prizes and awards.
  28. Play tag inside. It’s important to keep everyone moving.  Tag can be super fun!  If you don’t have space to run safely, try it while crab-walking! It takes up more space, but it slows everybody down!
  29. Visit the library virtually – Use Overdrive and the Meet Libby app and you can borrow digital books from your library for free!
  30. Put on a show in your living room – Act out scenes from your favorite Disney movies.
  31. Play FREEZE with your TV – put it on something active like sports, dance or exercise. Take turns pausing the TV and having everyone try to copy the frozen person on TV – hilarious!
  32. Exercise with work out video on Youtube or other social media. There are so many exercise videos on line, there is something for everyone.  I like this one because it is easy and features kids: Kids Working Out!
  33. Call a family member or friend on Facetime! Have some set topics and questions to help foster conversations.
  34. Have your child help make lunch or dinner. Make it fun for them and compliment them on being a good helper.
  35. Do yard work. This may not seem like fun, but it is actually really good for our kids to use their big muscles, get some sunshine, fresh air and fell like they are accomplishing something.  Clear weeds and leaves, plant seeds and flowers, dig up flower beds, etc.  It will help tire them out so they will sleep better.
  36. Put on music, hook up the hose and wash your car!
  37. Institute a 10 minute cleaning fest where everyone cleans, puts things away, dusts and vacuums for 10 minutes. Make it fun, be silly!
  38. Make race cars with Legos® or recyclables and race them. Race Cars from Recyclables
  39. Make puppets out of old socks. We love the Smarty videos, here is the one teaching how to make a sock puppet: SMARTY: Make a Sock Puppet
  40. Do a puppet show. Move the couch out, get behind it and do a show with your kids.  Videotape it so they can see it.
  41. Watch a classic movie with your child. Now is a great time to introduce your kids to all the classic movies you loved as a kid.  Have they seen all the things on this list?  Many are available on streaming services. Here’s a great starter list from Common Sense Media, that includes age ratings, and info about what might be upsetting to different kids:  50 Movies All Kids Should See Before They Are 12
  42. Get the crayons out and draw what you are feeling. Art is a great outlet for what we are feeling!
  43. Take an online typing class with your kids. Here are ratings for some that are free! Free Online Typing Programs
  44. Turn a laundry basket into a race car – push your child around in it. Then put toys or laundry in it and have them push it around.  This is good exercise and mad fun!!
  45. Play “The floor is Lava” with your kids – make sure to participate and supervise.  The rules:  The floor is pretend lava, so you can’t step on it.  You can start by filling the room with dining room chairs that help you get around the room.  Use caution.  Be safe but this is great fun.
  46. Do art projects with handprints and footprints. Turn your child’s foot into a Disney Princess Disney Princess Footprintsor a Marvel SuperHero: Marvel Character Footprints
  47. Take an online yoga class with your kids. There are so many on YouTube! Here is just one: Yoga for Kids
  48. Learn Tai Chi with your kids. Here is a video with ten easy to learn Tai Chi movements you can do with your kids! Learn Tai Chi
  49. Make a balance beam out of tape on your living room floor. Practice walking across it with different silly walks, don’t fall off.
  50. Dress up in costumes – either Halloween costumes or make your own silly costumes. Take pictures.
  51. Play a card game.
  52. Go through your toy box/bin and find toys you haven’t played with in a while, find new ways to play with them. For example, make a stop motion video with old figures.
  53. Build something unique out of Legos or other construction toys.
  54. See who can make the highest house of cards
  55. Have a video game tournament.
  56. Do the Hokey Pokey!
  57. Go for a drive and listen to a book on tape.
  58. Watch educational programing for all ages on PBS. Here in California our local PBS stations are offering curriculum aligned programming for different age groups. PBS At Home Learning Check with your local PBS station to see if this is available in your area.
  59. Watch an old fashioned musical and get up and perform with it. Here are 22 that are currently available on Netflix – be aware they are not all suitable for all ages. Musicals on Netflix
  60. Do silly tongue twisters. Here are 50 to get you started: 50 Silly Tongue Twisters
  61. Draw faces on your hands, do a puppet show. This doesn’t have to be rocket science.  Use a non permanent marker, draw eyes and a face on your hand and let the fun ensue.  Here is a cute (but blurry) video of a kid having some fun talking through his hand. Hand Puppet
  62. Draw faces on your toes. Sing a song.  Make a video.  Here is a great example: Singing Toes
  63. Teach your child how to load or unload the dishwasher – make it fun. Then challenge them to always put their dishes in the dishwasher as soon as they are done eating! Will they remember every time? Create an easy reward! Three meals per day – for every time you remember to put your dishes in the dishwasher, you get five extra minutes of reading time at night!
  64. Put wax paper under your feet and “skate” around the room. Be careful!  This can get pretty slippery!  This blog has great instructions: How to Wax Paper Skate
  65. Make a robot out of stuff laying around the house. Robots for Recycled Materials
  66. Play a game where you take small amounts of fragrant things from around the house, in the fridge and in your yard. Put them in separate cups, bowls or glasses.  Take turns blindfolding your kids and have them guess what they are smelling.
  67. Make mud, play in it and make old fashioned mud pies.
  68. Make and dress your own paper dolls. There a plenty of sites to help you – here is just one: Make Your Own Paper Dolls
  69. Play restaurant. Someone is the cook, someone is the waiter, someone is the customer.  Go from ordering to paying, your kids will love it.
  70. Get out your Christmas lights and hang them with your kids, wherever it makes you happy.
  71. Make a collage with your kids using recycled materials.
  72. Have your kids make a cooking show! Record it!
  73. Play follow the leader.
  74. Play Hot/Cold. Hide an agreed upon item somewhere in the house.  Start looking for it, the person who did it says “Cold” when you are not near the hid item, “Warm” when they are getting closer and “Hot” when they are really close.  The person who finds the item gets to hide it the next time.
  75. Rearrange the furniture with your kids – this is good gross motor activity.
  76. Make masks out of paper plates. Here are some fun ones from Life as Mama: Paper Plate Masks
  77. Challenge older kids to make a video for YouTube about their favorite subject…even if it’s video games.
  78. See who can make the silliest face in a selfie. Have friends and family vote.
  79. Play a video game as a family. We love to play Mario Cart as a family!
  80. Do calisthenics as a family. Older kids can do push ups, planks and crunches but all kids can do these moves: 5 Exercises for Kids
  81. Make a mural on the wall, by taking old wrapping paper and hanging it face down on the wall. Supervise your kids to only color or paint on the paper, not the wall. A fun thing to do is just draw shapes and lines, have them color each shape a different color. Geometric Art Projects
  82. Make toilet paper tube art! Toilet Paper Tube Art
  83. Make paper plate animals. Paper Plate Animals
  84. Make up a funny handshake with your kids. Be creative!  Make it fun.
  85. Make a crazy string sculpture in your house. Know where your scissors are before you start.  Tie string to a door knob and then tie it to something across the room.  Zig zag back and forth high and low until you run out of string.  Practice trying to cross the room without touching the string.  Make sure you take a picture before you cut your way out!
  86. Teach your child to sew a button on. Need a refresher before you teach? How to Sew on a Button
  87. Help your child to create a story or script – act it out. Don’t be afraid to be silly!
  88. Pretend you are on a boat, on an airplane, in an elevator, at the zoo. PRETEND!
  89. Pretend you are different animals, change frequently; take turns yelling out which animal to be.
  90. Play “I Spy”.
  91. Make a fairy house with recycled materials.
  92. Memorize a poem, scripture, monologue or speech –perform it!
  93. Pretend your kids are the parent and you are the kid! Let them order you around.
  94. Play balloon volley ball. Blow up a balloon and try to keep it from touching the ground by hitting it into the air.  Kids love this and don’t realize it’s good exercise!
  95. Make soup out of all the fresh veggies you have in the fridge. Have your kids help you find ingredients for the soup.
  96. Meet friends and/or family in a free Google Hang Out – Play a game together or read a story together. Don’t know how to do a Google Hang Out? How to Do a Google Hangout
  97. Make popcorn the old fashioned way. Don’t know how?  Here are some great instructions!
  98. Dance while vacuuming.
  99. Play retail store. Make someone the cashier and someone the shopper.  Have fun buying and selling your stuff!  This teaches pre-employment skills!
  100. Find free educational resources on line. A bunch are free right not, this blog details them all!  Free Educational Resources
  101. Take your kids on a field trip to a famous museum, virtually! Here are 12 of the best from around the world: 12 Museums to Visit Virtually
  102. Take a field trip with your kids…virtually!  Here’s a list:  Virtual Field Trips
  103. Need support with speech?  SpeechBuddy.com has put together a great list of activities and resources: Speech Resources
  104. Don’t get overwhelmed, do what looks fun! Come up with your own fun ideas and share them on the internet!

Tune in to Autism Live to hear more on how to cope during this uniquely challenging time!

Shannon Penrod is the host of Autism Live, a free resource, providing information for the Autism Community and those who care about the Autism Community.

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by Shannon Penrod

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m crabbier than usual.  Maybe people are ruder. Or maybe my son has just improved to the point where it doesn’t occur to people that my son has Autism, but lately random people have been saying things to and about my son that just irk me. Image

First, it was the woman in a museum gift shop who sarcastically asked my son how old he was because we was playing with a toy that is meant for a much younger child. She then turned to me, rolled her eyes and said, “Really, Mom, how about some age appropriate toys?”  I didn’t snidely inform her that ages on toys are tied to development and all children do not develop at the same rate, nor should they be made to feel bad about that.  To be honest, I kind of froze.  I was so busy watching my son to see if he was going to get the sarcasm or understand what she was saying and be offended.

He didn’t, but it was because he and the nuerotypical friend he was with were having such a good time playing with the toys, they didn’t care. By the way, the nuerotypical boy, same age, didn’t pick up on the sarcasm either.   Still, I couldn’t just let it go, so when the boys were out of earshot I quietly took the woman’s supervisor aside and explained why she shouldn’t be making blanket assumptions about children’s abilities and interests. My comments were well received and I left feeling like the woman would be more aware before commenting again.

Then I went to see a new Dr. the other day.  I picked up my son from school and scurried him into the car to get there on time.  I checked his token economy chart to see that he had done a great job in school for the day.  His focus was great, he didn’t need prompting and he stayed on task all day.  It was time for him to get a break and a reward.  In the waiting room of the Drs. office I handed him my phone and told him he could have some uninterrupted game time.  He had earned it.  Then I grabbed a magazine for myself and in doing so the entire magazine rack came off the wall and spilled 3 magazines on the floor.  My son looked up and went right back to playing.  Along comes the nurse to help me pick up the magazines and she starts in on the full sarcasm assault of my son.   

“Way to be aware.”  She says to him. 

Oh man.  Really?  Because the irony here is that she is the one who is not being very aware.  Yes.  In an ideal world, my son would have jumped up and helped me.  And believe me there are times when he does.  But he’s just spent 6 and half hours being aware at school.  His brain is on a much-needed vacation.  And instead of giving him a clear direction and saying, “Gee, I’ll bet your mom would really appreciate some help!”  She decides to be passive aggressive and throw some sarcasm his way.  Now he’s supposed to stop doing the thing he finds rewarding, listen to her, detect sarcasm, take stock of his behavior, notice what he did wrong and then change it.  That’s a lot to ask of any 10-year-old boy playing a video game after a long day at school, but for one with ASD it’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.  Both my son and I ignored her. 

In my head though I started the conversation where I would say to her: 

It’s possible that everything isn’t what you think it is.  Maybe the kid you think is rude has been fighting for two years to make eye contact with you, not because he wants to be able to make eye contact with you, but because he’s been told it’s important to you.

Maybe the child who is having a tantrum isn’t spoiled but has no other means of communicating their needs. 

Maybe that parent that you think hasn’t disciplined their child is exhausted from fighting to get their child life changing services. 

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything about anything. 

Maybe you should think before you decide to speak.

Maybe you should take a stroll in a pair of shoes other than your own and open your eyes to the challenges that face many individuals.  

I wanted to say it, but I didn’t.

Perhaps what I should have said to her was what she said to my son. “Way to be aware!”

Shannon Penrod is the Host of Autism Live an interactive, online video podcast that provides news, resources and support for parents, practitioners and teachers working with children with ASD as well as individuals on the Autism Spectrum.  Her son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. Visit www.autism-live.com to view the show and interact with Shannon and her guests.

 

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by Shannon Penrod

When A Child Dies From Autism…

Last week, on Mother’s Day, Mikaela Lynch’s parents experienced a nightmare that didn’t end.  Mikaela, a nine-year old with Autism, went missing.  For four days volunteers, family members and friends of the family searched for her.  During that Mikaela Lynchunbelievably difficult time, Mikaela’s parents would have been told that their child did not qualify for an “Amber Alert”, which would have mobilized more help and created more media coverage.  Amber Alerts can only be used when there is evidence that the child has been abducted. Children with Autism who are known to “elope” do not fit that criterion, despite the fact that they may be facing life threatening challenges.

The Lynch family was also subject to some negative media barbs wondering why they hadn’t watched their child more closely. As if you can ever watch a child with Autism who elopes closely enough…as if these poor parents could transcend the human necessity of blinking, getting a drink of water or simply looking away for a split second.

I wish there were a happy ending to this story, that Mikaela had been found alive and that her parents could have sighed with relief and held their child in their arms, smelled her hair and felt her breathe.  That isn’t the end to this story.  Mikaela’s body was found on Wednesday, in a nearby creek.  For the Lynch family all that is left is to mourn.  For the rest of us, we have the responsibility to learn from this tragedy and hopefully prevent the next one…because if we don’t, more children with Autism will die.

I know what you’re thinking.  Autism isn’t fatal.  Children don’t die of Autism.  I hear this a lot.  When someone tries to explain to me why there are more children affected with Autism than Cancer, AIDS and Juvenile Diabetes COMBINED but it still receives only a small percentage of the funding these other medical issues garner, this is often the excuse I hear.  “Autism can be devastating to a family, but let’s face it…it’s not fatal.”

Tell that to Mikaela Lynch’s parents.

This isn’t a question of bad parenting.  A recent study estimated that over 50% of children on the Autism Spectrum will at some time engage in something called “elopement.”  No, they aren’t talking about running off to Niagara Falls to get married.  They are talking about when a child runs or walks away without regard to safety or rules.  Every parent who has ever had a toddler knows what this looks like – the child just takes off.  It’s scary for any parent, at any age.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like if your child never grew out of that behavior? Imagine feeling as though you could never let your guard down, not now, not ever.  It is unimaginable, isn’t it?  For a parent with a child on the spectrum it can feel that way sometimes.

The horrible truth none of us likes to think about is that it is impossible to watch our children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We can try, we can do our level best, but it is impossible.  Every year we hear about more children with Autism who go missing from their homes.  Some are found safe, many are not.  What follows is astonishing to me.  As in the case of the Lynch’s, the media and the public often point fingers at the parents.  If they knew their child was an eloper, why didn’t they keep them safe?  This is the rationale of someone who doesn’t want to face facts.  Until we make sure that all families facing these issues get help and support, we are ALL responsible.

The good news is there is support we can give families to help stop their children from eloping.  It takes time, and systems have to be put in place to keep the child safe while they are getting the proper intervention.  It takes money.  It takes trained specialists.  It isn’t something an exhausted parent can do by themselves.  We need to stop acting like they can.

If you or someone you know has a child who elopes, don’t wait and hope that it will get better.  There are organizations that can help you.    Call your local Autism Society and ask for help.  Contact a TACA parent mentor.  Apply for an emergency grant from Autism Care and Treatment Today!  Don’t wait.

If you are a grateful parent of a well child, and you are able to use your restroom, or step into the kitchen, or take a phone call without fear of losing your child forever, please, please, spread the word and support organizations such as the ones I listed above.

Lastly, send a loving thought to the Lynch family.  Their loss is immeasurable.

Shannon Penrod is the mother of a nine-year-old with Autism.  She hosts Autism Live, an interactive web show devoted to giving free information about resources and solutions in the Autism Community.  Ms. Penrod makes the choice in her writings to capitalize the “A” in Autism, despite the fact that it is not grammatically correct.  In her words, “Trust me, when someone tells you that your kid has Autism…it’s a capital A.”

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